Bicycle Network: Women's Cycling
Hand a girl a spanner: female mechanics
A passion for the inner workings of the bicycle isn’t just a male thing. Julia Thorn met two female bike mechanics giving the boys a run for their money
Female bike mechanics are as rare as hens’ teeth. And yet many women cyclists would love to tell their bike woes to a female.
Sisters are doing it for themselves
Louisa Jenkinson of Human Powered Cycles in East Brunswick, goes further than this: “I was spectacularly ripped off by male mechanics in my early days of riding. Things like being told I could not possibly fix a back tyre puncture myself because it needed me to remove the back wheel, and I wouldn’t be able to do that.'
She has been working as a mechanic since January 2008, and has extensive experience with bikes through helping on Sundays with Bike Fix, the free bike-fixing service at Carlton Gardens. Her riding background is commuting and social riding, and she learnt many of her maintenance and repair skills during long bike tours.
Customer reactions to finding a female mechanic are generally positive. “Some people seek me out for being female. Women definitely fall into this category. I can spend time with them, explain things to them. Women don’t tend to know as much about bikes so they are more likely to be given poor advice. They can really be led the wrong way without realising it. I think the key is my willingness to listen to their needs.”
Brigid Farrell, a former nationally ranked track and road cyclist who has worked at Kennedy Cycle Fit in Black Rock since 2002, is another exception in this male-dominated world of bike repairs. “I know more than the average man about bikes, but they’ll come into the shop and ask me where the mechanic is. I think it’s hilarious. The fact is that even back when I used to go away with the team racing I was the only person on the team who worked on their own bike. The guys all got someone to help them out.”
Male customers are happy to deal with Brigid as the shop mechanic once they find out her role. “She does that bit extra and isn’t arrogant,” says satisfied customer Kevin. Although the shop has had one cyclist who would not let her touch his bike: “One time he came in and the boss said I really had to do the work, so this guy was very concerned and watched over me the whole time.”
Like Louisa, Brigid says that it clearly helps when dealing with women riders that she is prepared to talk to them in lay terms. “I don’t pre-judge women when they walk in,” she says, “while they often tell me their local bike shop ignores them”. She also tries to give them confidence to have a go at fixing their own bikes, which women can often be reluctant to do. “A lot of women riders just don’t want to know. I encourage them to fix a tyre, learn how to break the chain.”
Author bio: Julia Thorn is a keen recreational rider who has written four books of bike touring routes and articles for several bike magazines. This article first appeared in Ride On, August–September 2008.